War on Contraception = War on Women

A study from the University of Wisconsin shows that most of the gains women have made in the drive for financial and societal equality have been due to the ability of women to control their fertility.

The study shows that roughly one-third of women’s wage gains through the 1990s are due to the availability of oral contraceptives.

Published online this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research as a working paper, the study was conducted by U-M economist Martha Bailey and colleagues Brad Hershbein at U-M and Amalia Miller at the University of Virginia.

“We found that women who had early access to the pill in the 1960s and 1970s earned 8 percent more on average by the 1980s and 1990s than women without early access,”

The essence of the concept is that if women can control when they have children, they can decide at what stage in their education and career to start a family. This effect is increased when women start taking the pill earlier.

“As the pill provided younger women the expectation of greater control over childbearing, women invested more in their human capital and careers,” Bailey said. “Most affected were women with some college, who benefitted from these investments through remarkable wage gains over their lifetimes.”

Their analysis shows that nearly two-thirds of these pill-access induced gains in wages were due to increasing labor-market experience; another third came through to greater educational attainment and entry in non-traditionally female occupations.

Availability of contraception has also impacted the attitude of employers towards women.

“The pill’s availability likely altered norms and expectations about marriage and childbearing. It also likely affected the decisions of companies to hire and promote women.”

Equality for women is an ongoing battle and access to contraception is a major part of the fight. Unfortunately, the message has not gotten through to pharmacists in the US where 1 in 5 deny or hinder access to emergency contraception to young women.

Nearly one in five U.S. pharmacies gave out misinformation to researchers posing as 17-year-old girls seeking emergency contraception, often saying that it was “impossible” for girls to get the pill, a new study finds.

About 3 percent of researchers posing as physicians also received wrong information about the availability of emergency contraception, also known as the “morning-after” pill.

This is in direct opposition to federal regulations

According to U.S. federal regulations, girls 17 and older can buy emergency contraception without a prescription if they show proof of age, while girls 16 and younger need a doctor’s prescription.

“What we found was that emergency contraception was pretty available, in that 80 percent had it on the shelf that day,” said lead study author Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, a general pediatrics fellow at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center. “However, when teenagers asked if they could get the medicine, they were [sometimes] told they couldn’t get it at all, not with a prescription, not over-the-counter, just simply based on their age.”

Whether these employees were confused about the law or enforcing their own morality on the women is unimportant. The reality is these drugs are important for the ability of  women to have control over their lives. An unplanned pregnancy can often cause a women to drop out of school or delay her education, leading to a decrease in her lifetime earning capabilities. I am in no way suggesting that a planned pregnancy is a problem at any age. It is the unplanned pregnancies create the difficulties. The important concept is choice.

In contrast, Canadian women have access to over the counter emergency contraception regardless of their age. I was not able to find a comparable study to determine how Canadian pharmacists treat requests for the pill.

You have a right to obtain emergency contraception regardless of your age. You don’t need parental consent to get emergency contraception.

If you can’t afford it, assistance may be available.

ECP can also be obtained at a cheaper cost (or sometimes free) from some members of the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health. ECP is also available at many birth control clinics, women’s clinics/health centres, university health centres and emergency hospital rooms. Make sure you call ahead to see if ECP is available.

Abortion is also an important option for women who wish to have control over their bodies and their lives. In the US, a number of states are attempting to pass laws that will require doctors to lie to their patients about the negative health aspects of abortion. There is no mention in this legislation of the lifelong negative impacts of childbearing and rearing on her ability to support herself and her children.

Here on PEI, we are the only province not to have access to abortion services locally. The requirement to pay for travel expenses for an out of province procedure places an unfair burden on low income women; those who are most in need of the education that can alleviate their financial difficulties.

One of the interesting aspects of this is that a large number of conservative women in the US are content with this type of disparity. They feel. essentially, that women are, and should be subservient to men. As a result, they support Rick Santorum and his regressive Catholic position.

The former Pennsylvania senator, who is ardently anti-abortion and personally against birth control, has won the female vote in a large handful of states in the Republican presidential contest so far, particularly in the South. He also has the highest favorability rating among women of any GOP contender.

Democrats have tried to label the former Pennsylvania senator’s positions as stridently anti-woman, but at least among conservative women, the attack isn’t sticking. Conservatives say that’s because Santorum is seen as a steadfast champion of social issues that conservative women support and a genuine family man.

“Conservative women in the South are pro-life,” said Concerned Women for America founder Penny Nance, who has endorsed Santorum. “And [Santorum’s strong pro-life] isn’t offsetting, it’s endearing to them.”

In 2012, Santorum’s strength with women voters was first demonstrated in Iowa, and the trend continued through Southern states. Exit polls show he won among women in Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Even in states where he didn’t win the primary, Santorum performed well among women: In Ohio, for example, where Mitt Romney won the popular vote, Santorum still won married women by 4 points.

And in a Washington Post/ABC poll out last week, Santorum had the highest favorability rating among women of the GOP field: 66 percent of women viewed him favorably, compared with 18 percent who didn’t.

The former Pennsylvania senator’s favorability rating among women has only grown in 2012, as Santorum has become more well-known: since the start of January, his favorability among women has spiked 22 points and his unfavorables have dropped 4 points.

Despite these numbers, estimates suggest that close to 90% of US women have used birth control a some point in their lives. This is quite obvious as family size is much smaller than it was before the age of readily available contraception. Many of them also belong to two income households, so the question remains—why do they continue to vote against their own interests? The answer is as elusive as the larger question about why low income earners support political parties who support the interests of the wealthy.  It can at least partially be explained by the idea that many voters focus on one or two personalized issues; perhaps the anti-abortion or pro-religious promises and ignore the financial implications and ignore the other issues.

Make no mistake though, when groups such as the Christian Right and the Catholic Church fight to limit women’s access to contraception and abortion, they are fighting against equality for women. They claim to be pro-life, but in reality they are anti-women. Don’t let them pretend otherwise.

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